George Shultz: A Republican Who Accepts the Reality of Global Warming

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Aug. 14 2013 8:00 AM

George Shultz: A Republican Who Accepts the Reality of Global Warming

George Schultz and President Reagan in 1986.
George Shultz and President Reagan in 1986.

Photo by White House staff, from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, National Archives and Records Administration/wikimedia

When I write about attacks on reality, I wind up shining a light on Republicans more than Democrats. That’s mostly because although there’s plenty of anti-science to pin on the far ends of the political spectrum, the right has made it more of a party platform than the left. As an example, you’d be hard-pressed to find any Republican on the House Science Committee who would say evolution is real or that the Earth is warming up.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

But in fairness, when someone of either party does support the science, I’ll support them in that effort, even if I might disagree with them on other issues.

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Which brings me to George Shultz. Among other political appointments, he was Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state. While I might disagree—vehemently—with much of Reagan’s policies, there are plenty of places I imagine Shultz and I would agree. Of late I might disagree with him strongly on many things as well—he is, after all, a Republican strategist, as well as being an adviser to the George W. Bush campaign in 2000.

But he sat down with Scientific American magazine and gave a thoughtful and excellent interview about global warming. The takeaway: He accepts the reality of warming and says in no uncertain terms we need to be doing something about it.

One of the more clear statements he makes, among many, is this simple pronouncement:

You know, a new ocean is being created for the first time since the Ice Age [in the Arctic with the meltdown of sea ice]. How could that happen? It's getting warmer.

Boom! Yes. Arctic sea ice is dropping at a precipitous rate, and no amount of denier spinning will change that.

I also have great admiration for this:

You've got solar panels on your home. Why did you do that?
I figure I've got to walk the talk. They've been on [the roof] for about six years. I have a little chart that has my electricity bill before and after, and if I take the amount of money I've now saved, I've paid for the panels plus the opportunity cost of that money. I also have an electric car. I drive it around campus and around town. I don't have any range anxiety.

That’s a remarkable statement: Reagan’s administration famously tore down the solar panels installed on the White House during the Carter administration.

The entire interview is quite remarkable, and I highly recommend reading it. I disagree on some points, like when he gives a blanket approval of fracking, which is fraught with environmental issues, but overall he’s on the mark.

I’m very pleased to see this. If Shultz can—pardon the expression—light a fire under some of his fellow Republicans, then we may actually be able to make some progress toward turning the global thermostat down a notch or two.

Tip o’ the thermometer to DeSmogBlog.

Correction, Aug. 14, 2013: This post misspelled George Shultz's last name.

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